It is a mystery story centered on a detective novella that is said to be from the pen of the world famous Italian author Umberto Eco. “The 60-page novella ‘Carmen Nova’ has a prologue, an epilogue, notes and comments,” says philologist Nils Penke from the University of Siegen. “Somebody must have gone to a lot of trouble.” is not Umberto Eco (1932-2016). “It is a very well-made forgery with at least 15 copies,” he tells the German News Agency. When Penke chanced upon the yellowed book on Ebay in late 2022, it was as if he he had been electrocuted. An unknown work by the great author? But disillusionment came too quickly. Many evidence led him to assume with certainty that the text is not Umberto Eco’s, as he explains. “It lacks the entertaining and artful narrative of an Eco, around a real story does not develop from the form of Carmen, it is a hypertheoretical text”, he finds. And he notes meaningfully. “Someone here knows Echo well”.

What is the motivation?

But there are other facts, which he cites to support his position. “The unknown author or authors would have to be literary experts for such a well-invented narrative,” he believes. The purported publisher of the volume is a Zurich-based Edition Doppelnull, the afterword by French author Roland Barthes is also fantastic, and the text contains numerous references to other novels and authors. The first edition is dated 1983. At that time the edition of Eco’s worldwide success The Name of the Rose had just been released”. In Penke’s experience such apocryphal texts in modern literature are very rare. The American linguist Carol E. Cheisky argues that such literary imitations may occasionally occur undetected, but when they are discovered they are widely publicized, “because this behavior is morally repugnant to people who love literature and honesty.”

In relation to the motivations of these forgers he hypothesizes that the perpetrators sometimes enjoy making fun of other people. In the case of Eko it becomes evident from the strange name of the publisher. The German Literary Archive in Marbach has just organized an international symposium on this topic. “Forgeries, such as Schiller’s forgery of manuscripts in the 19th century or Hitler’s fake diaries in the 1980s, constitute criminal activity,” the symposium proceedings said. “At the same time, there is a ‘productive dimension’ to these forgeries, which exercise also a charm. Nils Penke wants to travel far and wide to uncover the creator of the forged piece. According to the University of Siegen, the case first became known in February. Since then, “Carmen Nova” has taken literary circles by storm.

Detection “even after 40 years”

Meanwhile, Eko’s son also came forward, stating that there is nothing to show that his father knew about the fake crime novel, as the University of Siegen reports Eko’s son saying. There are others, into whose hands this booklet has fallen. Some of them contacted Penke, including one who, he said, obtained the novella along with a ‘pirate’ copy of The Name of the Rose. work on such a famous author, while he was still alive,” says Nils Penke. Now he is thinking of various scenarios on how to proceed. For example, comparing the texts with the help of digital methods, But this would require at least evidence of one or more suspects who would could have been involved. Perhaps a forensic analysis of the paper or binding could possibly provide some answers. What he also hopes is that more people come forward, into whose hands ‘Carmen Nova’ has fallen – or the actual author himself to come out of hiding after so many years.There is also a tragic component, the fact that the forgery went unnoticed for so long.

American linguist Carol E. Cheisky knows some digital tools and methods for detecting a plagiarized work. For example, there is a special program that can compare syntactic features in the suspect text with known texts by Umberto Eco as well as with texts by authors who could be the forgers. In other words, it can scrutinize word combinations, idioms, or even sentence structure. So far tests with around 200 texts and 30 authors have shown a very high degree of accuracy. It might also be worthwhile to do a precise analysis of Eco’s works from which suggestions, expressions and content for the detective novel were probably taken. And he believes it is possible to trace the author or authors who perpetrated the hoax “even after 40 years”.